What is faith?

Does having faith mean that you say, “I believe in Jesus Christ?”  Or does it mean that you live a life in a relationship with God your Father?

Galatians 3:7 says that those who are of faith are the children of Abraham.  So, what kind of person was Abraham?  If we want to live a life of faith, shouldn’t we be like our father Abraham?  Abraham started his walk with God by listening to what God told him.  Genesis 12 tells us that the Lord told Abram to leave his country, his extended family, his father’s house and go to a land that God would show to him.  God added that He would bless Abram for doing those things.  The only thing that we know about the results is that “So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him.”

That was just the beginning of a long walk with God.  God spoke and Abraham listened.  He proved his faith in what he heard by obeying.  If Abram hadn’t obeyed, we never would have heard anything more about him.  It was his obedience to what he heard that made him an exemplary standout in the midst of that age and even in the midst of all ages afterwards.  To this day, “the faith of Abraham” defines a flawless walk in God.  It was flawless because he never flagged in his faith.  Flawless doesn’t mean that Abraham didn’t have difficult moments where he wondered if he was hearing God correctly.  It didn’t mean that he lived a life of perfection.  His life was filled with difficulties and misunderstandings on his part about what God might have meant in His communications.  After all, Abraham was flying through the fog just as we are.  No one is born with a clearly defined road map explicitly pointing out the exact way that each of us should go.  There is nothing that points to the exact road that will lead us to our destination with no possibility of detours.

However, we do have the possibility to access the same tools that Abraham had: his intense love for his Father God and a desire to please Him.  God also gave us another resource: the Bible.  It not only teaches us right from wrong, but it also recounts to us the stories of others who have followed this way.  Most precious of all, it gives us the words of Jesus and the example of His life.  Abraham did it all without the benefit of such useful and encouraging tools.

So, what about believing in Jesus?   Jesus himself said, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.  If they were children of faith as was Abraham, they would have believed in Jesus.  If we are children of Abraham, children of faith, our faith will lead us straight to Jesus.

After examining the life of our father Abraham, it is clear that living a life of faith means living without constant confirmation that we are on the right way.  God gives us enough light to see the portion of the path that we are travelling today.  We trust that God is giving us that light and that it is leading us towards a great destination.  We follow His will for us today, knowing that it will lead us to tomorrow where there will be another will for our lives.  And on it goes, a never-ending, spiraling upwards trajectory leading us closer our Father.

A Question for Rappers

Yesterday, a friend posted a rap on their facebook page and it came up on my home page. It was eight minutes long and usually would be too long to tempt me to click on the play button. However, the title caught my attention. “Man vs. God/Official Mime Video.” I went ahead and clicked and it held my attention right from the start. Very well done. It made me ask myself again something I’ve wondered in the past. Why don’t rappers rap about subjects that will uplift people and help them to have more respect for themselves and others instead of all of the trash talk and venting of anger?

So, rappers, why don’t you do that? You hold a LOT of power in your hands to help people or to make them descend into a deeper pit. Use that ability you have to make this world a better place! Just saying.

COMMITMENT

 

Recently, my students were learning how to revise an essay in my evening ESL reading/writing class.  A few sentences in the introduction of the revised final draft that we were studying in the book caught my attention.  “A generation ago, it was common for workers to stay at their place of employment for years and years.  When it was time for these employees to retire, companies would offer a generous pension package and, sometimes, a token of appreciation, such as a watch, keychain, or other trinket.  Oh, how times have changed.  Nowadays, people – especially younger workers – jump from job to job like bees fly from flower to flower to pollinate.”  (Great Writing: Great Essays 4, Cengage Learning, 2014)  We continued reading as the essay went on to explain the reasons people have for quitting their jobs.  However, my eyes and mind remained focused on the ideas and images evoked by those descriptive words, ideas about the subject of commitment.

My own father worked at GMC for many years and retired exactly as described above.  He had a nice party where they gave him a fine watch and a very nice pension package.  He was rewarded for his dependableness and his loyalty and his retirement package helped him to live a comfortable life for many years.  In contrast to his traditional life, it seems to me that nowadays people are not content to be in one job.  They are always looking for something better, something bigger, something with better pay, more benefits, or more prestige.  High profile CEO’s and sports team managers flit from team to team or from corporation to corporation just like the busy bees in the essay that my students read.  University presidents stay at one university just long enough to make a name for themselves before they start a search for something better.  They appear to be loyal at the time that they are at the university, but they are on a career path for themselves, not for the university.

No one blames any of these career people for jumping ship.  The sole exception seems to be when sports figures leave one team for another one that offers them a better package.  The fans blame them for leaving the home team and may even boo them when they come back to the hometown for a game against their former team mates.  The booing may last for a while, but before long that sports figure is replaced by another favorite in the hearts of the fans.  It makes you wonder though.  With so many prominent examples of professionals doing “what’s right for themselves,” how can young people understand the importance of loyalty or of a commitment?

Furthermore, the lack of loyalty in a sports figure or a university president or on the job is just a scratch on the surface of modern society.  What happens when there is no commitment or loyalty in a friendship or in a marriage?  In the United States, many friendships don’t seem to last very long.  Even in marriage, the idea of commitment is on the wane.  Couples come together for a time, but when difficulties arise, their love diminishes and they lose their interest in maintaining the relationship.  Before too long, they find “something better” and move on with their lives.

However, commitment and loyalty are qualities that are desperately needed today.  They are not simply old-fashioned qualities for a generation that is quickly disappearing.  It occurred to me recently that the importance of commitment cannot be negated.  In this life, we all are made up of both emotions and principles.  Emotions are as fleeting as the wind.  They sweep in like a summer breeze and inspire us with all kinds of wonderful feelings and ideas.  We think that these intense feelings will last forever, not realizing that life’s situations will change just as assuredly as the weather and as our situations change, so also do the feelings that accompany them.  For one minute we are on cloud nine and the next we can hardly remember what it felt like to float so high in the stratosphere.  Emotions inspire us, give us courage and make us take giant leaps of faith, but they can never hold us.  In a relationship, when we no longer feel the intensity of our first feelings, the emotional “high” of falling in love, will we “fall out of love” with the person we are with?  Will we forget what we ever even liked about the person?

That is why we need commitment.  We make commitments based on those lofty feelings.  We jump into relationships or marriage because we know what it is to feel on top of the world.  We enter into something that we say is for the long haul, but do we have what it takes to hang on to it?  A true commitment is the faith to hold us through.  It is the anchor that we hold on to when the current gets too swift and knocks us off of our feet.  Life is such that difficulties will inevitably come.  Everyone is subject to difficulties.  If someone has no difficulties, they must not truly be alive.  Some of the troubles that pop up in our lives seem but a moment, but others linger and pester us for years and years.  What does a person hang onto that has no faith?  More and more, we see people around us that are drowning.  They flounder and flail their arms and cry out for help.  Some get angry and act out on their anger in horrible ways that become the next day’s headlines.  They have no anchor.  They would like to make a commitment, but they have no faith.  There is nothing there for them to hang onto when trials come along.  In their relationships, they don’t even see the point of hanging on.

Commitment, on the other hand, hangs on in troubled times.  Commitment knows that troubles cannot last forever.  Faith holds on when everything around it is just a blur, at times not even remembering why it is holding on.  It just knows that it must hang on.  Everything we know and hold dear can crumble, but faith stands strong.  One day, when the situation finally changes and the summer breeze returns and the tender feelings fill our hearts again, then that faith finally receives its reward.  The emotions that once were strong are stronger still.  The person him/herself could not have ever imagined that the original loving emotion could somehow one day be doubled in sweetness, but now finds that it is so.

Reading the Bible in one year

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

A wonderful new website to help us read through the Bible in one year!  Very nice that the mayor of a small town in Texas would like to promote the Bible this year.  What a great way to begin this new year!

http://www.thebible2014.com

Shopping trumps Thanksgiving? Or can Thanksgiving trump shopping?

A quiet morning after Thanksgiving perusing the headlines that shout out to us that shopping has trumped the traditional Thanksgiving meal (cnn.com) has produced a contemplative spirit.  A little outrage too.  Why?  Why would anyone want to give up a delicious meal and relaxing moments with great conversation with friends and family to go out in the cold in order to face off with thousands of people looking for the same bargain?

The outrage comes first.  The whole media/shopping blitz is eroding our country’s family values and traditional ways of living and taking away from time spent relaxing and renewing one’s spirit.  It’s frustrating to see people falling for the media campaigns and enticing ads to constantly shop and spend more money.  To keep a person focused on shopping and attaining more in the way of personal goods is to keep that person focused on the apparent trappings of this natural world and to keep him at the same time far away from reflection on his spiritual and emotional state.  His/her mind is constantly engaged in this natural world and what he/she “needs” to continue to improve his natural surroundings.

After the outrage, more reflection creeps in.  You see, I did not spend my Thanksgiving waiting outside the doors of the local big box store, nor did I head out this morning to get the best deals at the mall.  The question returned: why would someone give up a nice, relaxing afternoon and great conversation with friends and family for …..?  The answer instantly appeared.  They did not give up a nice, relaxing afternoon with friends and family.  Many families barely tolerate each other.  Put them all in one room and the tension can be cut with the same knife used to carve the turkey.  So and so is not talking to so and so and those who are talking to so and so are just feeling sullen today because … who know the because?  Just because.

It’s easy to see in that light why so many would prefer to be out shopping.  I have not ever had to spend a holiday in such an angry environment, thank God.  I have, however, heard of such things.  It’s really a sad commentary on our society that shopping would trump a nice, relaxing afternoon spent in thoughtful conversation and childlike laughter with one’s beloved family and friends.  A lovely and loving afternoon can refresh our spirit and prepare us for the days ahead.  It can give us insight into our world that will help us for weeks and months to come.

The media and advertising campaigns are therefore not the issue.  The underlying issue is the problems in our homes and in our personal lives.  Those problems keep us from making and maintaining strong social and familial relationships.  So, instead of blasting the shoppers and the mega media moguls, we should put our strength into helping families to renew their relationships.  We cannot influence all of those with broken families, but we can influence those around us who may be struggling.  It would be so refreshing to see the shops HAVE to close up on holidays for lack of shoppers.  They will only need to do that when there is something much better going on in American homes.  We can make it happen.

Living now

What happens when I live just in the now?

  • There is no more fear of the future and what it may or may not bring.
  • Anxiety is banished.
  • I’m just walking along with God, talking with Him now.
  • I trust Him to take care of everything as He and I walk along this road together.
  • He’s the one that knows the future.  I haven’t got a clue about it.
  • I know that when choices present themselves in my life, the decisions that I make will influence the direction of my life’s path, but I don’t worry about that.  I just make the choice based on what’s right and wrong now.  Then I don’t feel badly about the results because it was the best possible choice at the moment.
  • I know that it’s an adventurous path that I’m on.
  • When I’m relaxed (since there’s no more stress), the present moment is much more alive and interesting.
  • Some future plans do have to be made in this world, such as: work related issues, vacations, other kinds of business, but it all becomes ‘God willing.’  God willing, there will be a vacation this year and if it does happen, it will be that much more relaxing since God allowed me to have it.

Walking with God, living in the moment with Him creates an adventurous, interesting, meaningful and stress free life.  There’s no other way to go!  People who don’t have that don’t know what they are missing!  They think that it’s exciting to go out and get drunk and party etc.  There is no excitement in that.  What is there?  Just heartache, troubled relationships, hangovers, and depression when parties and life don’t meet up with expectations.

The Scriptures say, “I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;” …. “Therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”  (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19)  Those words are in really old language.  If we look at it in the light of what it means to us today, we could say: In each moment of life, we have a choice between what is good and what is not.  When we choose to follow the good, we will have a fuller and more adventurous life!  When we walk with God in the ever present now, we will have a more rewarding life!

Support of traditional marriage

In this morning’s paper there was an opinion piece by Mr. Stan Simpson.  In the article Mr. Simpson wrote about the troubled life of Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots’ football player accused of murder.  The major thrust of the article was about the difficulty that Mr. Hernandez had because his father died when he was a teenager.  Mr. Simpson used that case as a lead in to discuss “the crisis in masculinity.”  In his discussion, he quoted a minister and former football player who said that “Forty percent of all children go to bed without their biological dads in the house.”  Such a statistic is tragic.  We all have images in our minds of daddy coming home from work and greeting the children, taking them fishing or helping them learn something such as car repair, carpentry or even math.

Journalists are fond of bringing up such statistics without thinking logically about what the full scope of the issue entails.  The foundation of the whole issue presupposes a traditional marriage between a man and a woman.  Our society is in the process of eliminating support of traditional marriages and yet authorities in that society decry the problems that are created by eliminating traditional marriage.  These days if you support traditional marriages, you find yourself on the firing line.  I find that audaciously hypocritical.

Stable traditional marriages between a man and a woman are known to produce stable and responsible children.  Troubled marriages, single parenthood and other difficult situations statistically bring about greater numbers of troubled children who become troubled adults.  Our society is disintegrating from its core, which ought to be stable traditional marriages.  You can’t trash marriage and then complain when the results of trashing it show up in society.

By the way, I don’t think that the Hernandez case is a good example to use as a lead in to this topic.  He and his brother went to school with my children.  A lot of people have a lot of different opinions of what went wrong in Mr. Hernandez’ life.  In the end, only he and God and maybe a few close associates know what really went on.  It would be better to simply leave it alone and let the courts work it out at this point.